Comedy is Serious Business

For people who want to do comedy, I though it would be helpful to think about the following.  Comedy comes from two basic things.  One is taking the world you are creating seriously.  So whether it’s Will Ferrel or Richard Pryor, you need to create a world that you take seriously and that an audience can take seriously.  Then within that serious, realistic world, your character does unbelievable or crazy things.  It’s that combination of acting strangely in a realistic world that makes things funny.  So this is what Seth Rogen has to say about his new film:

“There have been a lot of ‘safe’ comedies, where everything’s a wink to the camera. I thought if you could root it in reality and then still have these crazy things go on, that it would have more impact.”

The second thing about comedy is that comedy comes out of a character who has truly committed to something.  Who has committed utterly and seriously to their goal, even as we realize or people around them realize the goal is ridiculuous or over the top.  So here’s what Vince Vaughan says about comedy:

“That’s the heart of comedy. You have to have a point of view. You gotta commit. And the more you commit to it, sometimes the funnier it gets. Like in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, I’m convinced that something’s going to go down.”

Vaughn starts looking around the restaurant, jittery and bug-eyed, seeing imaginary vampire bats swooping down from the rafters.

“It’s crazy, but the more I’m past questioning it, the funnier it is. Or in Swingers, I make such a big deal over how many days you have to wait before you call a girl. I think it’s funny because I’m so particular, as though it really means the world to me. I have friends in real life, the way they see stuff, they can be so narrow in their perspective, it makes me laugh. You could have a friend who’s dating someone and he can get hung up on the smallest thing. It’s like…”

And here Vaughn starts shouting, hitting the table, and the people in the restaurant who’ve been pretending not to look at him stop pretending.

“She wrote me an e-mail! At the end of that e-mail it says, dot dot dot. What does that mean? No, no, seriously, if that was a period, that would be the end of the sentence. There’s closure. Dot dot dot, there’s no closure!”

He shrinks back down.

“It’s that kind of commitment that makes it sort of funny. If I take an extreme, absolute position, that becomes funny. Because the reaction doesn’t warrant the reality. It’s just dot dot dot.”

And this is one reason why comedy is much harder than drama.  To create the realistic world and have an actor commit totally to their goal and point of view, is difficult.  The shooting has to be better, the production has to be more solid, in order to create the realistic world.  And you need an actor to totally commit to what they’re doing.  Both those things are tough for students to be able to do.  Not impossible, but difficult.

Of course some folks try to do comedy, cause it seems easy.  Because taking things seriously seems hard.  Of course, listen to any comedian and they’ll tell you just how damn hard comedy is!


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